With its danceable tunes and awe-inspiring choreography it is easy to see why the Korean Pop Song “Gangnam Style has become a runaway success. The song popularized by Korean music star Psy is now in the number 2 slot of the Billboard 100 having earlier landed number one in music charts across the UK and Australia.
Thirty one countries, across Asia, Europe, South and Central America, and the United States made it the top-downloaded song on iTunes last September. And YouTube views of its music video, posted nearly 500 million.
So how come this danceable tune sung mostly in Korean became a worldwide phenomenal success? The answer lies in the popularity of K-pop culture worldwide.
NPR’s Planet Money Zoe Chace said that just like Motown, Korean pop (popularly known as K-pop) has worked on packaging up appealing pop for decades.
Virtually, Korea with less than 50 million people is a small country but its television dramas, music and movies are hugely popular across Asia, including in China and Japan. It has the second-largest music market next to the United States. Likewise, it has been successful in creating cultural products for 1.2 billion; a market worth $2 billion a year.
Chace said, “Korea exports a lot of products — cars, computers, phones. You use Korean products every day. A Korean pop song is just another product. But a very high tech, very sophisticated product.” A huge factory-like system for K-pop perfects these cultural products.
An article on K-pop from the New Yorker details the strict regimen of a K-pop trainee: lessons in singing, dancing, acting and Japanese, Chinese and English, and media coaching. It said that trainees are forced to follow strict curfews, diets and dating rules. The newspaper article adds: “Good looks are a K-pop artist’s stock-in-trade.”
Straits Times, Singapore’s English-language newspaper also reported that one agency “forbids its female trainees to have boyfriends and bars any food or water after 7pm.
The Korean’s savvy meantime, for new media—the internet and television also hyped its popularity.
K-pop grew up in the age of television and the internet, hence Korean pop, from its beginning, was a visual medium.
Add to that, Korea is the most wired nation in the world, so their record labels are really good at making YouTube videos.
“From the beginning, new songs debuted on national television, not on the radio, like was done traditionally over here. That means the moment Koreans started listening to Korean pop music, they were listening through their screens. They were watching their music,” according to NPR’s Planet Money.
If the K-pop’s prowess in producing flawless and polished pop dolls, and awe-inspiring videos stays, then we may be seeing and hearing a lot more of Korean pop in the future.